How to make your wardrobe sustainable

Will’s sportswear wardrobe includes skiwear, which he only wears once a year. It’s an area ripe for the rental market, says Williams. Will could rent out his ski gear for most of the year, keeping the items in use and making some extra money on the side. EcoSki is one specialist skiwear rental platform in the UK, although many fashion platforms also offer the category. The danger is that, through regular use, the items may not last as long, but the growing professionalism of the rental market to include things like insurance encourages renters to look after and prolong the life of garments.

How to create a sufficient wardrobe

At the start of our wardrobe audits, the three of us had one key trait in common: we all owned more clothes than were deemed “sufficient” by the Hot or Cool Institute. We now have another: despite the report’s allowance of five new items per year, none of us feels the urge to buy that much. Personally, I’ll be investing in new swimwear – mine has lost its shape (and I’m a regular swimmer) – but that’s it. Martha will continue to buy leggings, but look into alternatives.

“Honestly, I don’t feel I need anything,” says Will. “My flip-flops have seen better days, but it doesn’t feel urgent. The football team I support has released a really nice new shirt, and in my defence I haven’t bought a new one since 2013. But after the audit I am struggling to justify purchasing one.”

So is there a formula for auditing a wardrobe, for making better clothing choices? While there is “no silver bullet”, Williams suggests splitting your existing wardrobe into two categories: investment and cost. “For items that you love and wear, that you feel good about, that reflect your identity and values – they’re an investment,” she explains. “The garments whose provenance you’re unsure of, that make you feel uncomfortable, that hang unworn in your wardrobe – these are a cost.”

But with more than 100 billion items of new clothing produced each year – and 65% of these end up in landfill within 12 months – any action we take to avoid buying new clothing will help solve fashion’s biggest problem: overproduction. By making adjustments to our wardrobes and own consumption, we will send a message to government and businesses – and change the system. As Williams says: “Collectively, as citizens, we have a lot of power.”

Ana Santi is a freelance journalist and author of Three Things to Help Heal the Planet. Additional reporting carried out by William Park, a writer at BBC Future, and Martha Henriques, editor of BBC Future Planet.

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